For visitors to the 2012 Olympics, British culture will be front and center. But that hasn't stopped the Italian Cultural Institute in London from capitalizing on the crowds to steal a little thunder. The Pininfarina in London exhibit opens tomorrow, with the notorious style house chosen to represent the best in Italian design.
The Pininfarina Extra subgroup designs much more than cars: Vending machines, office chairs, watches and even children's toys will all be on display. But what's got us most intrigued is the PRT, or Personal Rapid Transit, vehicle shown above, which will also be on display (in model form). Designed as an update to an existing pod car for Vectus, a South Korean transportation company, the PRT is something like a subway car on-demand.
Here's how the system works: A user summons a PRT car, if one is not already waiting at the station, and punches in their destination. The PRT takes them (and up to five passengers) there with no stops along the way, thanks to bypass tracks at each station.
Because the electric cars are lightweight, the elevated rail structure needed to safely support them is less expensive than adding, say, a new subway line or elevated roadway for cars. In the event of an individual car's breakdown, another PRT can get behind it and push it to the next station for repairs. And while the 40 to 50 kph top speed won't break the sound barrier, journeys will be quicker from point-to-point than a subway as the PRT skips every station but yours.
Vectus is also looking at added larger-sized cars for travel groups, and theorizes the system could be used to move freight during off hours, as a way to increase revenue.
Sound fanciful? The system has been in testing since 2006 in Sweden, as you can see in the video below.
Last year Vectus broke ground on a new track at South Korea's Suncheon Bay, a coastal wetland that needs a transportation system with minimal environmental effects. The unobtrusive PRT fit the bill nicely, and the currently-under-construction loop is expected to come online next year.